Director: Abhinay Deo
The ‘blackmail’ referred to in the title of Irrfan Khan’s new film doesn’t point to merely one instance of extortion but in fact a whole chain of cash extraction by arm-twisting.
Chances are you probably figured that out from watching the film’s trailer, which, frankly, gives away a lot more than it should.
The plot is set into motion when Irrfan’s character Dev, a middle-class, white-collar everyman stuck in a dead-end job and a loveless marriage returns home early from work one evening to discover that his wife is having an affair.
This is not that movie in which the husband, consumed by rage, commits a crime of passion. No sir, this is not that film.
Weighed down by loans and EMIs and bills waiting to be paid, Dev decides instead to blackmail his wife’s lover for cash.
It’s an interesting starting point for a dark comedy, and director Abhinay Deo and writer Parveez Shaikh build on this idea to create a scenario where pretty soon every character in the film is blackmailing someone else. In addition to Dev, his unfaithful wife Reena (Kirti Kulhari), and her ‘himbo’ lover Ranjit (Arunoday Singh), the key players in this theatre of the absurd are Ranjit’s ball-busting wife (Divya Dutta), a male drinking buddy and colleague of Dev (Pradhuman Singh), an opportunist female co-worker (Anjula Sathe), and a double-dealing detective who refers to himself in third person (Gajraj Rao).
As original and as unusual as the plot is, the script slips into a repetitive loop early on and suffers from serious pacing issues. Blackmail after blackmail after blackmail takes some of the novelty and surprise out of the screenplay, and the film’s first half feels especially long. The overarching themes – that nobody is entirely innocent, and that the lure of a fast buck can corrupt most people – are certainly worth pondering, but the film is burdened with indulgences that it could’ve done without.
Dev works at a toilet-roll manufacturing company, and his US-returned boss (a hammy Omi Vaidya), a champion of toilet paper and its many merits, devises a hare-brained plan to capture the market. It’s a distracting, silly subplot that only stretches the film needlessly. An item song featuring Urmila Matondkar is also eminently forgettable.
But – as is fast becoming a habit – it’s Irrfan Khan who swoops in and rescues the film from becoming a complete slog. His portrayal of a decent chap making the most of the bad hand he’s been dealt is nuanced and relateable, and Dev, with all his flaws, is the closest thing this film has to a hero. Irrfan’s so good in the role, he even pulls off a tricky running joke about stealing photographs from his colleagues’ desks, without the ickiness that a less competent actor might have failed to dodge.
A word also for Arunoday Singh, who shines as the not-very-bright lover of Dev’s wife. During one tense, clandestine meeting at a cinema to figure out how to tackle the blackmailing, he’s preoccupied staring at a canoodling couple in a row ahead, even remembering that he’d seen the same girl with another guy the last time they were here.
It’s the film’s unique brand of humor – some of it pitch black and Coen-esque – that makes Blackmail worth your time, despite its shortcomings. Be warned that it’s too long by at least 20 minutes, and requires patience. But give it a chance. A lot of it flies.
I’m going with three out of five.